J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Composition Study for a Painting; Study of the Sky; and a view of Edinburgh 1821-2

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 88 Verso:
Composition Study for a Painting; Study of the Sky; and a view of Edinburgh 1821–2
Turner Bequest CC 88a
Pencil on white wove paper, 114 x 187 mm
Inscribed in pencil by Turner ?‘ships on [or ‘of’] the [...] light’ | ?‘shipping [...]’ top left running vertically
Inscribed in pencil by ?Finberg ‘CC [...] a’ top right
Blindstamped with the Turner Bequest stamp top right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
With the sketchbook inverted is a composition that clearly is not related to the Scottish subjects that make up the majority of sketches in this book. In fact, Ian Warrell has identified it as deriving from a painting by Claude Lorrain (circa 1604/5–82) with topographical features drawn during a recent visit to France, and forming the compositional basis of two connected oil sketches.
The overall composition is therefore taken from Claude’s Landscape with the Port of Santa Marinella, circa 1639–40 (Petit Palais), which Turner saw in the Sciarra Palace in 1819 of which he made a small and rough copy (Tate D16848; Turner Bequest CXCIII 80).1 Like that composition, the focal point of this design is a building with a tower at its centre and a curved bay to its right. In the foreground is a group of figures, though this time not on horseback as in the Claude, and the picture is framed by tall trees which reach to the top of the composition, although their position has been altered. This new composition, Warrell has noted,2 is found again in the linked composition of two oil sketches that Turner painted a few years later; these are known as Italian Landscape with Tower, Trees and Figures (Tate N02992),3 and Overlooking the Coast, with Classical Building (Tate N02991);4 these form the left and right halves of a single composition. The middle of this composition is the same as the current sketch with the tower at the centre of the left oil, and the bay at the left of the right oil. The two canvases join at the large tree in the centre of the composition.
The identification of Overlooking the Coast reveals yet more about the identity and purpose of this sketch. Warrell has related it to sketches made in France in 1821, and suggests that it shows the town of Arcureil near Paris, with its aqueduct just visible in the middle distance. There is a sketch of the aqueduct in the Dieppe, Rouen and Paris sketchbook (Tate D24525; Turner Bequest CCLVIII 13a). Aqueducts or arched bridges appear on folios 87 verso (Tate D17663) and 90 verso (Tate D17669) of this sketchbook and may be related to sketches of Arcueil and other bridges over the Seine sketched in the Dieppe, Rouen and Paris sketchbook (e.g. Tate D24522; Turner Bequest CCLVIII 27a). This drawing therefore seems to be an experimental composition study based on the Landscape with the Port of Santa Marinella and perhaps other paintings by Claude copied at the Louvre in 1821, with reference to a landscape sketched on that same French tour.
It therefore seems that Turner used this sketchbook in 1821 or 1822 for sketches to develop several Claudian composition ideas based on French compositions, before he turned it over and began again from the other side with sketches of the route to Edinburgh in August 1822. There is a slight variation of the composition but with the same elements of tower, bay and figures and trees in the foreground on folio 89 verso (D17667). See also folios 85 verso, 86 verso, 87 verso (D17659, D17661, D17663) and 90 verso for more sketches that may be associated with this trip to France and resulting composition studies.
The sketch continues slightly at the left onto folio 89 (D17668), where there are two arches of a bridge in the foreground, and a row of trees to the left of the towered building.
There are also two small and slight sketches on this page of Scottish subjects. At the top left are two boxed-in thumbnail sketches of views taken in Edinburgh. The top one is of a cloudy sky, and carries various inscriptions describing the effect. Beneath this is a view towards Edinburgh dominated at the left by the outline of Edinburgh Castle. Behind a tree to the right is what may be the dome of St George’s Church. The view was probably taken from somewhere along the Water of Leith (see folio 9 verso; D17525).

Thomas Ardill
November 2008

See Ian Warrell, Blandine Chavanne and Michael Kitson, Turner et le Lorrain, exhibition catalogue, Musée des beaux-arts, Nancy 2002, p.194.
Ibid., p.195.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, p.178 no.307.
Ibid., p.177 no.306.

How to cite

Thomas Ardill, ‘Composition Study for a Painting; Study of the Sky; and a view of Edinburgh 1821–2 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, November 2008, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, December 2012, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-composition-study-for-a-painting-study-of-the-sky-and-a-view-r1133006, accessed 16 January 2021.